Saturday, November 30, 2013

Website debacle shows that Obama put his faith in the wrong people

This past issue of TIME features a cover story by Nancy Gibbs, muling about the “broken promises” of “Obamacare,” and what it means for his legacy. First of all, Gibbs—a “contributor” to the sad decline of a once venerable publication—is one of those disgruntled Hillary supporters who after all these years is still unable to face reality, and never wastes an opportunity to debunk the president, even if it is mostly waste. The thing that people should be talking about is not whether or not this country needs a system of affordable health coverage (if not a single-payer system)—it does—but how to make to make this needed thing work. Instead, we have trash media like Fox, CNN and TIME keeping people ignorant about the future of health care if we don’t make reform work.

Come to think of it, now that I mentioned “Hillary” we might also look at how certain people have let Obama down despite the authority he had entrusted them with. Clinton was a travelling side show, receiving what the media called “rock star” treatment—except in Egypt, where they pelted her motorcade with brickbats. I think all that over-the-top praise she received from world leaders when she cut and ran after Benghazi was either to mask their contempt for her, or because behind-the-scenes she was feeding their Obama hang-ups.

The reality is that Clinton was one of the most ineffectual secretaries of state in modern times; it seemed that she was more interested in burnishing her “reputation” than engaging in nuanced diplomacy, which she temperamentally wasn’t suited for. She engaged in the “tough talk” that right-wingers like, but in today’s world that just doesn’t work anymore. Regardless of what one thinks of the Iran deal, John Kerry has already accomplished more of concrete matter than Clinton ever did in four years. 

But even more exasperating for Obama was Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her underling Marilyn Tavenner. Given the importance of getting health care reform off on the right foot, the enormity of their ineptitude dwarfed that of the tag-team of Anne Gorsuch and Rita Lavelle, who at least served prison time for their corrupt antics in Reagan’s EPA.  The website, which was supposed to be able to handle a heavy load of users accessing it from the jump, couldn’t even handle a few hundred without running into a traffic jam at the first intersection.

Sebelius told a Congressional panel that she informed the president that the website was “ready to go.” Or at least this is what she was told by Tavenner, who oversees Medicare and Medicaid Services and was “directly” responsible for the construction of the website. Of course, Tavenner probably “delegated” responsibility to the actual website creator—under a contract from the Bush administration—who probably found the task overwhelming but felt obligated to tell her what she wanted to hear. Or perhaps there was just a lot of childish hand-wringing and finger-pointing behind the scenes, hoping that a “miracle” might happen and all the problems with the site were just a bad dream and would disappear in the morning.

Obama’s greatest failing seems to be that he trusts too much in the wrong people he assigns to do a job. Back in 1992, Bill Clinton complained about “bean counters” who wanted top government jobs filled to satisfy political considerations rather than through competency; this was likely the case too often in the Obama administration. I don’t know when or if Obama knew there was a problem before or after the fact, but it is clear that some people were not “big” enough to admit that the job was as too big for them to handle. It is easy for media fringe players like Gibbs to rag on Obama—certainly easier than pointing out the uncomfortable reality that hits too close to “home."

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Packers have been humiliated before by the Lions on Thanksgiving Day

The Green Bay Packers trouncing by the Detroit Lions yesterday was the most lopsided loss in the Mike McCarthy era, one of the few times the Packers have not been competitive. I’m just “guessing” here, but after only a few days of rest I suspect that Matt Flynn’s elbow “issues” resurfaced; being overly “generous,” this probably helped account for his embarrassing performance, although frankly no one on the team could properly say that they didn’t have a hand in it. Aaron Rodgers is slated to return for the next game, but with only four games remaining, it seems only a matter of regaining some dignity. The Packers have had worse losses, such as the 1980 “stolen signals” game when the Chicago Bears annihilated the Packers 61-7, but this game was just total ineptness all around. 

Now for a history lesson. The Lions have played virtually every Thanksgiving for the past 60 years. They played the Packers 20 times, and lead the series 12-7-1.  The 1986 game was expected to be a snore fest with both teams  having losing records, but the 2-10 Packers used an 83-yard punt return to win the game 44-40. But the most famous of these matchups was in 1962, which featured what was probably the Packers greatest team, winning all but one game and outscoring their opponents by an average of 19 points per game. Against the Philadelphia Eagles—who defeated the Packers in the NFL championship game two years prior—the Packers won perhaps the most lopsided victory in team history, 49-0, outgaining the Eagles 628 to 54, with 37 first downs to the Eagles’ mere 3. 

Coming into their Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Lions, the Packers were 10-0, outscoring their opponents 310 to 77. The Packers were certainly not invincible; they had been dominated by the Baltimore Colts the previous game in every way but the scoreboard, but the expectation was to win a tough game in Detroit and complete an undefeated season. But on this Thanksgiving Day game, the Lions humiliated Lombardi’s Packers. The 26-0 score after three quarters only told part of the story; in 29 drop backs, Bart Starr was sacked 10 times for losses of 93 yards. That the final score was a “respectable” 26-14 was due to the fact that the Lions committed five turnovers, including a fumble in the end zone for one Packer score. 

Thanks to this season’s somewhat unexpected embarrassment against the Lions, the Packers’ season seems to be lost. But if I were a Lions fan, I wouldn’t crow too much. Since 1954, Detroit has a 1-10 playoff record, that lone win all the way back in 1991.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

"Jeannie" haters are the ones who are "politically incorrect"

Today is Thanksgiving Day, which it might surprise some people to know that it was the subject of some controversy in the early days of this country. The pre-Civil War South loathed to recognize it as a national holiday, because it was seen as a “Yankee” affair, given its northeastern origins in the heart of abolitionist territory.  It did not become officially “official” until the FDR administration—selling it as a way to mark the start of the Christmas buying season—when it was decreed that every fourth Thursday of November would be designated a national holiday.  

But for me, Thanksgiving Day is just another day on the calendar. I’ve had to work the past seven such days; such is the lot of life of one who works in the transportation business.  I have just one small regret about having to work this time around, and that is that I’m going to miss the “I Dream of Jeannie” marathon, being aired on the “oldies” station Antenna TV. When I was a kid in the pre-cable era, syndicated shows like “Leave it to Beaver,” “The Beverley Hillbillies,” “The Munsters,” Gilligan’s Island,” Bewitched” and “Jeannie” were force-fed on the afterschool and weekend public whether it was good for them or not. Most of these shows were little more than live-action cartoons, with incredibly silly dialogue and inane slapstick, and just plain fun. 

To today’s PC, narcissistic audience, these shows vie with each other for dumbest, most “incorrect” on the planet; but then again, if you don’t enjoy the antics of The Three Stooges like I did, you’d never “get it.” I happened to encounter on the Internet something that aired on bottom-feeding TMZ, which ambushed Barbara Eden (still looking good at 82, at least from the neck up—by natural or unnatural means) at the Los Angeles airport, where she was obliged to answer silly questions and flash (off-camera) her infamous navel.  

The real story, however, were the comments of panel members on the TMZ program, who complained about the alleged “sexism” of a half-dressed woman calling a man “master,” who was a virtual “slave”—and a “sex slave” at that. I mean, how dumb can you be to take a fantasy show literally? Now, I realize the social mores of the 1960s were in some respects “backward”--such as in the anti-civil rights South--but on the other hand there was some progress on that front amongst the younger generation. In some ways "Jeannie" was ahead of its time; one first season episode featured a black airman trying to teach a white woman how to drive a jeep, which Jeannie proceeds to wreck. The airman runs up to the jeep in exasperation, soon to be joined by a group of onlookers, all white female military personnel in skirts; the military may have been integrated by then, but I suspect that even in 1965 some in the white audience were not ready for that.

And let’s face it: Most sitcoms were and still are mostly situated in “domestic” settings. Anything outside the home is there to freshen up a gimmick growing stale; in the case of "Jeannie," these escapades were more frequent and outlandish after the second season. But to defend Jeannie, it should be pointed out that in her “genie” costume she was only “half-dressed” from the waist up (her legs were covered), and that there wouldn’t have been as many comic complications if the “genie” had been a sourpuss male; after 2,000 years stuck in a bottle, it wasn’t “strange” that Jeannie would have that many years of pent-up desire to “please” the first man who “rescued” her. It may be said that she was also a victim of arrested development, say at 16 years of age.

In regard to those whose “opinion” is based on a superficial idea of the show, they obviously don’t know that Major Nelson (Larry Hagman) was a “straight man” who for most of the show’s run was a reluctant “master” who continuously tried to discourage Jeannie’s affectionate nature, which always seemed to lead (often with the not unwitting “help” of Major Healey) to disastrous situations. When he wasn’t “cooperative,” Nelson often found himself the victim of Jeannie’s vindictive side. The truth of the matter is that “I Dream Of Jeannie” remains popular among some demographics not because it is “sexist”—which it isn’t—but because of its premise that an all-powerful female can make a man’s life “hell,” even with the best of intentions. Hagman’s adeptness at physical comedy made it all palatable—and yes, Eden was “easy” on the eyes, which made her often exasperating behavior forgivable.

While I will miss the “I Dream of Jeannie” marathon today, I’m not particularly disappointed. I have the entire series on DVD, so I can conjure up my own "magic" and view my own “marathon” any time I want.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Despite national aspirations, Scott Perry is merely a creation of schizophrenic Wisconsin voters

Although I “grew-up” in the state of Wisconsin, looking back I wonder what exactly I learned there. I admit that I encountered many people who one might define as socially “liberal,” at least in the way they interacted with me; but most of the time I just seemed to be in a different world than most people I knew.  It wouldn’t be for many years that I discovered where this square hole society had determined this round peg would “fit” into, and how I would respond to it. 

In any case, Wisconsin is another one of those states that tends to be schizophrenic in its voting patterns--voting  “blue” on the presidential level, but often conservative on the state level. How can a state that was in the forefront of progressive social policies vote for a far-right extremist like Scott Perry for governor, whose policies are in direct opposition of what this state allegedly stands for? But then again, this is the same state that elected an uncompromising “socialist” like Robert La Follette for the U.S. Senate, and then rejected his son in favor of that embarrassing red-baiter Joseph McCarthy. 

Perry, who allegedly is exploring a presidential run in 2016, recently spoke at some breakfast function sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, in which he made the expected inane comments about Barack Obama and his foreign policy, while praising his “role model,” Ronald Reagan.

I’m afraid I don’t have a strong stomach for this sort of mendacity. First of all, Obama’s foreign policy needed a competent hand, and he finally has that in John Kerry. Whether or not the recent “deal” with Iran over its nuclear capabilities is successful in its aims remains to be seen, but at least it is a beginning. But for what reason does Perry think he could do “better”? Because he wasn’t “intimidated” by the public sector unions that he and his Republican majorities in the Wisconsin legislature trampled on like an elephant mindlessly rampaging in the china shop? This after they managed to con the electorate into voting them into office after they cowardly “forgot” to mention what their plans would be? This wasn’t a “budget-cutting” project as they claimed, either; it was just part of an on-going effort to weaken unions who are one of few organizations with the funding clout to off-set that of the corporations that bankroll Republicans.

Perry also pointed to Reagan “standing up” to the air traffic controller union, firing all those who went on strike in 1981—just the beginning of a long trail of corruption in his administration that culminated in the Iran-Contra scandal that in any previous era would have been regarded as treason. Again, this was “easy” and required no moral or ethical forethought; Reagan had the power to act unilaterally, and his extremism was still concealed by the actor’s fa├žade. 

Perry went on to suggest that Reagan’s “toughness” against unions—like his own—was enough to cow the international foe (huh?) and keep military engagements to a minimum. Unlike Perry, I happened to be “there” when all of this was going on. Reagan’s “foreign policy” was basically cutting and running after the Beirut barracks bombing, making stupid statements like that at the Bitburg military cemetery where Waffen SS soldiers were buried, invading the tiny island Grenada (which proved to be an embarrassment for the mighty U.S. military), out-spending the Russians (and rolling-up a huge federal deficit in the process), and of course the Iran-Contra law-breaking. In the years to come, I expect that the reality of the Reagan administration will prevail over the fairy tale. 

Despite beating back a recall effort, Perry might not be long for this political world. There is still the 2014 governor’s race to consider, and he appears to have a fight on his hands despite the fact that expected Democratic challenger Mary Burke is largely unknown. However, it speaks much to the way the individual Wisconsin voters is more narcissistic in outlook on the local level than they are on the national level in that Burke is in fact little differentiated politically than Perry in her background, and she has refused to commit to rolling back Perry’s most obnoxious initiatives if elected.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Don't make a political point by confirming stereotypes

I’ve mentioned an incident at a shopping area called Kent Station (in Kent, of course) where a security guard told me he  was banning me from the premises merely for washing my hand in the public restroom, apparently because  he harbored certain stereotypes about certain “groups,” and he wanted to flex his “authority." Without reprising the whole story again, basically my response was to find the nearest bench and park myself there, which discombobulated him for a while before he called the police, who asked him to explain why he banned me from the premises. In his mind, he was the “power” on the premises, but when confronted by a “higher” power, he was exposed as a bigoted fraud who could not answer for himself save to expose his own shortcomings as a human being. 

This is one way to make a political and social point. I had not done anything illegal, was not doing anything illegal, and I had given this security guard no justifiable reason to believe that I was about to commit any illegality in future. I had every reason to accuse this person of unjustified harassment.

Now consider the following incident: I entered a convenience store, and noticed that a black youth, whose mode of dress looked like something out of a Seventies sitcom, or at least not anything that should arouse “suspicion.” The problem was that he was acting suspicious, at least to the clerk. He was standing motionless with his back to the clerk in one of the far aisles, and apparently had been doing so for longer than a few moments. As I was pouring myself a cup of coffee, the clerk finally asked him if he was looking for something; the youth’s response sounded to me as if there was certain deliberateness in his lack of motion. Don’t worry about me, he said in an exaggerated tone that suggested that he was expecting this query from the clerk. I have money, he declared. He was obviously daring the clerk of accusing him of being a thief. 

What happened next convinced me that the youth was “playing” the clerk: After I paid for the coffee and proceeded to exit the store, I noticed that he had moved to another aisle, but bent down on his haunches out of sight of the clerk, who by now was becoming visibly upset. What was he doing? He was rummaging around a box of—what else—Skittles. They were all of the same content, so why was he wasting time picking out each bag? Was he deliberately trying to attract the attention of the clerk and make him “suspicious”—and then accuse him of “racial profiling”? I didn’t hang around long enough to find out how all of this played out, although I felt some sympathy for the clerk’s plight. Since I recognized what the “game” was, if I was in clerk’s place I would have let the kid continue on and let him make a fool of himself

There are ways to make a political and social “point.” One of those ways does not include acting in a way that deliberately invites suspicion just so you can accuse someone of harboring negative racial (or gender) attitudes. It is one thing to make your “point” in a setting where the accusing party is left in a situation where they have to explain themselves in the vacuum of their own dark minds; it is quite another when your “point” is made in a way that “confirms” stereotypes.

(As an addendum, I spoke to the clerk the next day and asked him if this individual had actually made a purchase; he said that the youth had gone to the counter with an item, but that he left without making a purchase because it was more than the two dollars he said he had brought.)